About Alpacas

Alpaca Farming

The average lifespan of an alpaca is 20 years, 15 to 18 of which are its breeding life. The gestation period is 11 months (335 days). The females can have a baby (cria) every 14-15 months. It is better to have 4-5 animals per acre, depending on the soil type. Alpaca farming techniques are usually gained from other farms that are experienced, so starting with  a good mentor is important. It is through experienced owners that you will learn what it takes to raise alpacas successfully..

Alpaca Care

Alpacas can be kept on  small parcels of land: a herd of 4-5 animals needs about 1 acre of grassy land. The paddock should be fenced mainly to protect them from predators. Being hardy creatures, Alpacas adapt easily to any climate and have minimal requirements in the way of shelter. An 3 sided shelter is enough for an Alpaca normally.

Alpacas are modified ruminants and very efficient feeders. They can thrive on grass in summer and on hay in winter. Alpacas are small and easy to handle. The births usually take place in the daytime. This is a useful adaptation to the Andean weather because nights are cold there and the baby has to dry off while the sun is shining.

Alpaca Uses

Historically Alpacas are raised for their unique fiber. A great variety of things can be made of Alpaca’s fiber from clothes for newborn babies to warm blankets, coats and coarse rugs. Many farm also utilize alpacas in  Agritourism or for 4-H groups. They are also easy to show animals and their champion bloodlines can make them more valuable.

Alpaca FAQ

1. What is an alpaca?
2. What do you do with an alpaca?
3. Why should I become an alpaca owner/breeder?
4. What do alpacas eat?
5. Are they easy to care for?
6. Can you raise alpacas in a hot, humid climate?
7. What facilities are required for alpacas?
8. What about alpaca babies?
9. Are alpacas dangerous?
10. How do alpacas communicate?
11. What is a Suri Alpaca versus a Huacaya Alpaca?
12. Why is alpaca fleece so valuable?
13. What do you call a young alpaca?
14. Are alpacas smart?
15. How do you transport alpacas?
16. Can you pack with an alpaca?
17. Are alpacas adaptable to varied habitat?
18. Are alpacas insurable?
19. What are the investment qualities of alpacas?
20. Who buys alpacas?

1. What is an alpaca?

The alpaca is a domesticated member of the camelid family, a cousin of the llama, but one-half to one-third the size. Alpacas have large, expressive eyes, a short triangular muzzle, a sheep-dog mop of fiber over the brow, and abundant fine fiber. Alpacas come in a broad spectrum of colors, more than any other livestock. They grow to weigh an average of 100 to 150 pounds and can live 20 years or more. The world population of alpacas is estimated to be 3 million. There are approximately 100,000 alpacas in the United States. [TOP]

2. What do you do with an alpaca?

Alpacas provide an excellent source of luxurious fiber. Alpaca fiber comes in a variety of colors: from pure white through fawn, to a range of browns, and a true jet black. The worldwide fiber market recognizes 22 natural colors of alpaca. They make excellent companion animals and are also show animals. Alpacas are easily trained to lead and are gentle enough to be handled by children. [TOP]

3. Why should I become an alpaca owner/breeder?

Alpacas offer a very attractive business and farming opportunity no matter where you live: urban, suburban, or rural. Urban dwellers can board (or “agist”) their alpacas at nearby farms/ranches so that they can enjoy the benefits of ownership while living in a large city or suburb. People also raise alpacas for companionship and to enjoy a rural lifestyle.

Alpacas are the source of a luxurious fiber. The fleece, comparable to cashmere, is known for being soft, light weight, and shiny. Alpaca textile products are recognized world wide. Because of the limited supply of fiber in North America, the current fiber market is based primarily on a cottage industry of hand-spinners, weavers, and fiber artists.

The “back to basics” lifestyle which is a part of living with alpacas is also very appealing to many people searching for a business opportunity that can be operated from home and will involve the entire family. 

Alpacas can be easily trained to lead, and are gentle enough to be handled safely by children. Gelded males are often kept as pets. 

Because of their high aesthetic appeal, alpacas are also desirable show animals. Alpaca shows, which include halter and performance classes, are held throughout North America and are great fun for the family. Halter classes are similar to show events for other forms of livestock, while the performance classes may include both obstacle course and costume classes. Showmanship classes test the skill of the alpaca handler.

Although the llama, a cousin to the alpaca, should be the choice for any serious packing, alpacas can carry light packs for day trip hikes. [TOP]

4. What do alpacas eat?

Alpacas are browsers and grazers. Because they are ruminants, which mean they chew cud like a cow or deer, they are efficient utilizers of the available food and will do well on different kinds of low protein hay or pasture grass; approximately two pounds per 125 pounds of body weight per day. A single, 60-pound bale of hay can generally feed a group of about 20 alpacas for one day. Alfalfa is discouraged or fed only sparingly, as it has high protein content that can lead to overweight animals. To assure their alpacas receive the appropriate balance of vitamins and minerals, some breeders also choose to feed a pelleted food especially formulated for this purpose. Additionally, all alpacas require access to free-choice mineral supplements and plenty of clean, fresh water to drink. [TOP]

5. Are they easy to care for?

Yes, compared to other livestock, alpacas are considered by most people to be very easy to care for. They are relatively small and easy to handle and maintain. They stand about 36 inches tall that the withers (the point where the neck and spine come together), weigh between 100-200 pounds. Their natural tendency to move in groups makes them easy to move from place to place as needed. A group of alpacas establish communal dung piles that are easy to manage in one or two spots in the pasture which controls the spread of parasites, and makes it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer (a rich asset for the gardener).

Alpacas are hardy and typically have few health care requirements. Alpacas need basic shelter and protection from heat and foul weather, and being livestock, they do require periodic worming and annual vaccinations. Worming and vaccination programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian to address the health concerns within the specific geographical area. Newborn crias may also be given supplemental vitamin and mineral shots to get them off to a good start.

Additionally, their toenails need to be trimmed every couple of months. Speaking of toenails, these animals do not have hooves-they have two toes, with hard toenails on the top of their feet and a soft pad on the bottom of their feet, much like a dog’s foot. Therefore, you don’t experience compaction of the soil to same degree that you would with other types of livestock. The padded feet of the alpaca have two nails which can be trimmed with a common pruning shear. Dental care is minimal; however trimming of the front incisors may be necessary for some animals. Male alpacas and sometimes females can also grow fighting teeth that can do damage to each other when fighting for dominance and these should be trimmed back as needed.

The fleece should be sheared off once a year. Grooming is discouraged because shampooing and brushing tends to destroy the character of the alpaca’s wonderful fiber. It is generally recommended that fleeces should be picked clean and gently blown out with a grooming vacuum to remove dust prior to the annual shearing. This annual cleaning process is greatly facilitated by keeping alpacas in clean pastures and facilities throughout the year. [TOP]

6. Can you raise alpacas in a hot, humid climate?

The answer is generally yes. Alpacas have proven to be amazingly resilient animals. Alpacas are being raised successfully in Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and also in Alaska and many Canadian provinces. Certainly, in the hotter, more humid climates, the alpaca breeder does need to take health and safety precautions, like shearing fleeces off early in the year, providing plenty of fresh water to drink and dip their bellies into, and areas of shade. [TOP]

7. What facilities are required for alpacas?

This varies widely, depending on such things as weather and predators. But as a general rule, the alpacas do need at least a three-sided, open shelter where they can escape inclement weather. And if predators are present in your neighborhood, then a minimum of five-foot-high, 2″ by 4″ no-climb fencing is necessary to keep out the predators. Traditional horse fencing (with 4″ by 4″ openings) is not recommended, as curious alpacas might be physically harmed if they put their heads through that type of fencing.

Alpacas are ideal small acreage livestock. Four to FIve alpacas can be kept on an acre of grassy pasture. Since cleaner pastures will mean cleaner and therefore more valuable fleeces, alpacas should be kept on well drained pasture which is free of debris and nuisance plants. Pastures should also be checked for the presence of plants which will be poisonous if eaten. Local agricultural agents can usually be of assistance in the identification of such plants. Alpacas will also appreciate a dusty/sandy spot for rolling somewhere in their pasture or living area.

They should have basic shelter available all year. In moderate climates, a three sided shed is adequate. When temperatures and humidity go up in summer, some type of shade is essential. Our alpacas appreciate having access to a shelter with electric fans to cool them and to control pesky insects.

Huacaya alpacas seem to be very cold hardy when covered with their growing fleece, although enclosed shelters may be necessary in extreme cold and damp conditions. Suri alpacas may have additional needs for shelter in cold weather because of the way their fleece hangs from their backs, exposing their top lines. Even crias, or baby alpacas, seem to do well in cold temperatures after they are a few days old, although a “cria coat” may be prudent on especially damp or windy days.

Since alpacas do not challenge fences, fencing is more important to protect them from possible predators (i.e. coyotes, wolves, and domestic dogs). Modular fence panels are an ideal solution for containing and separating alpacas within perimeter fencing.

Alpacas do need to be maintained in same sex groups.  Alpacas are induced ovulators.  As a result they can be receptive year round and the male will take advantage of that and continually breed the female till damage is done to her reproductive system.  Even gelded males should be maintained with males only. [TOP]

8. What about alpaca babies?

The gestation period for alpacas is 11 to 11 1/2 months. Alpaca babies are called crias. Crias weigh from 12 to 23 pounds at birth and are usually up and nursing within an hour. [TOP]

9. Are alpacas dangerous?

Absolutely not! They are safe and pleasant to be around. They are very curious about people and seem most intrigued and drawn to children. In fact for families who enjoy the alpaca lifestyle, children often share in farm responsibilities including feeding, halter training, and showing in the show ring. Alpacas are becoming an ideal and popular animal for 4H projects. They do not bite or butt; and they do not have the teeth, horns, hooves or claws to do serious injury.[TOP]

10. How do alpacas communicate?

Alpacas communicate through body posture, tail and ear movements, and a variety of sounds. The sound heard most often is a soft humming, a mild expression befitting a gentle animal. Dams make a soft clucking sound to reassure and communicate with their cria. When an intruder (be it a house cat, deer or predator) is sighted nearby, a high pitched call is sounded to warn the herd. During breeding, males make a melodious, rhythmic sound called orgling. [TOP]

11. What is a Suri Alpaca versus a Huacaya Alpaca?

The Suri, only recently imported into the United States, has a lustrous fine fiber that has no crimp, and grows in very defined pencil-like locks parallel to the body of the alpaca. The Huacaya’s fleece has a wavy quality, or crimp, that grows perpendicular to the body. The rarer Suri is estimated to be 1% to 3% of the world’s population of alpaca based on South American woolen mill statistics. There are less than 2,500 Suris in the United States. [TOP]

12.  Why is alpaca fleece so valuable?

Alpaca fleece is valuable because it comes in many natural colors and can be grown sustainably without harm to the animal.  It provides warmth and luxury to items crafted from it

. [TOP]

13. What do you call a young alpaca?

A baby is known as a cria. The weaned crias are known as weanling.  [TOP]

14. Are alpacas smart?

Yes, they are amazingly alert animals who quickly learn to halter and lead. They constantly communicate with each other through body posture, tail and ear movements, and a variety of sounds. The sound heard most often is a soft humming, a mild expression befitting a gentle animal. [TOP]

15.  How do you transport alpacas?

Alpacas are pretty much stress resistant, load and travel calmly and can be transported in the family mini van, station wagon, utility vehicle or horse trailer. If traveling for short distances, they can be transported inside vans or other larger vehicles. Most folks put down a piece of old carpeting or a tarp to minimize the impact on the vehicle’s carpeting in case an “accident” was to occur. Some breeders have been known to transport their alpacas in small planes. Most of the time, however, the animals will “cush” (that is, sit down) for the journey. Longer distances generally require transport in a livestock trailer. [TOP]

16. Can you pack with an alpaca?

Ideally no.  Llamas are much better suited for heavier loads, alpacas can carry light load for a short time .[TOP]

17. Are alpacas adaptable to varied habitat?

They have been successfully raised from Australia to Alaska and from 15,000 feet to sea level. [TOP]

18. Are alpacas insurable?

Yes, they can be completely insured against loss. [TOP]

19. What are the investment qualities of alpacas?

An alpaca rancher with a small herd on a small acreage can expect to harvest his animals’ fleece and sell their offspring. If you learn about their fleece and market directly to the artisan the fleece can be profitable.  You can also send your fleece in to a Co-op that will then give you credit twords products made and produced in the United States that you can resell.  Breeding top quality fiber or show alpacas can also be profitable.  While not as common, there is also a market for Alpaca meat, leather and hides.  [TOP]

20. Who buys alpacas?

Other alpaca breeders, farmers looking for a smaller livestock to raise and families looking for gentle animals that can be around children are common alpaca owners.  There is also a group of fiber artisans that enjoy keeping their own flock to raise and grow their own fiber..[TOP]


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